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B.C. synth-pop band integrate sign language into live performances

HALF/ASIAN with Amy the CODA will perform in Revelstoke later this summer

This article was originally published in the Revelstoke TIMES Magazine. HALF/ASIAN with Amy the CODA will perform at the Grizzly Plaza Gazebo as part of the REVY.Live Outside concert series on August 22.

Dynamic synth-pop duo HALF/ASIAN with Amy the CODA bring their dreamy beats and haunting vocals to the stage for every performance, but their incorporation of sign language in their music sets the act apart.

The pair had previously played the summer concert series in the past with other bands and shared the stage with Maggie ‘May’ Davis at Tiny Lights Festival in Ymir, BC, who suggested that they return to Revelstoke with their new group.

The project started at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ian picked up a synthesizer at Value Village and started writing, and Amy began wondering how she could incorporate her sign language into the music.

“I lost a bunch of the language, so it was really cool to dive into Ian’s lyrics and the music he had been writing and to approach it with sign language,” said Amy.

About a year into the project, Amy started incorporating her own vocals into the music, and through 18 months of practice, she became the lead singer of the group.

“Ian was a good teacher and we worked really, really hard,” she laughed.

Amy added that in the beginning, learning to sing was difficult, but with the help of Ian and some YouTube tutorials, she settled into her own voice. Now the pair sing harmonies over the top of their synth-pop/alternative sounds. Amy described their sound as Chomeo-meets-George Harrison.

In 2021 and 2022, the pair started touring, taking their act from small shows in northern Alberta to the big stage at Vancouver Island Music Festival. This year, they look to continue that momentum with a number of shows lined up and the release of a 22-minute documentary that explains their story - Mother Tongue.

The name of their group is linked to the pair’s identity. For Amy, CODA stands for ‘child of deaf adult’. She said that the reason for attaching it to her musical persona was to embrace that part of her identity.

The music also gives Amy an outlet to use her language on a regular basis.

“Every time we have a performance I have an opportunity to connect with that part of myself,” said Amy. “Literally taking it into my own hands.”

She added that she’s received really positive feedback from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community as well as the hearing community.

“It gives them a really cool opportunity to experience it,” said Amy. She added that it gives them an opportunity to interact with sign language that isn’t just seeing an interpreter in a box on a screen. She said that deaf and hard-of-hearing people really connect with the music and it helps them feel welcome.

Ian’s mother is Cantonese and his father is British, and he is part of the first generation of his family who was born in Canada.

He had his identity stolen around when the group was getting started, receiving a call from his mother who got an ICBC claim that said Ian crashed his Mercedes in Surrey.

“I was in Africa, so I definitely didn’t crash a Mercedes. I didn’t own one.”

The whole fiasco led Ian to think about how he could claim his identity. When they were deciding what to call their band, he decided that HALF/ASIAN played strongly into his identity and was blunt and descriptive.

The inspiration for their music comes from jamming out in their own space, improvising and exploring stories.

Ian described their live performances as ‘chill’, with lush beats mixed with folky sounds and Amy’s visual show is not just for the hard-of-hearing audience, but also enhances the meaning of the lyrics for everyone.

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